Adopting a child with additional health needs - Tom and Janet's story


Our journey to adoption started when we started doing respite for children with special needs. We knew we couldn’t have kids, and explored IVF but we decided against it, and when we looked after a teenager with special needs, we realised that either fostering or adoption was the path we wanted to pursue. 

We decided very early on that we wanted to adopt a child with special needs. We felt that this was our opportunity to offer a child something they wouldn’t get elsewhere. 

We decided that we wanted to adopt an older child too, so we could understand what their disability and level of needs were. 

We went along to a profiling event for children who were classed as ‘harder to place’ where there were about 30 children profiled. It was all a bit overwhelming, so we didn’t discuss the children much during the event, but afterwards we had both decided, separately, that Caleb was the child for us. 

We were very lucky, we got on well with his foster family and met with them several times before he moved in with us. Their support has been really important to us. 

Caleb has got a lot of special needs, including severe global development delay and autism. At the time we adopted him we were told that he would be in a complete vegetative state and unable to communicate, but to look at him now, and see him running around and about to go to high school, he really is a remarkable young man.  He has an amazing ability to pick up languages too – he can speak about 40 now! 

Adopting for the second time was quite different. The connection wasn’t as instant and took a lot more work and a great deal of therapeutic parenting to get to where we are now. Amelia was four and remembered some of the neglect and abuse that she had suffered. She had a lot of medical needs too and is effectively blind. When she gets hurt, even minor things, her body completely shuts down, it’s very scary. 

Despite her needs she is an amazing bubbly person. She doesn’t feel as though she has any limitations. She has achieved so much, and we are really proud of her. She has a natural talent for horse riding, even though she is blind, autistic and has ADHD, when she gets on a horse it’s as though all her disabilities disappear. 

Life certainly isn’t without challenges, but we find being as prepared as possible really helps. Little things like having a bag ready in case we need to make a sudden trip to the hospital, can make things a lot easier to deal with.

Having a child with special needs brings a huge about of pleasure – seeing them hit the milestones you never thought they would reach is extra special. Those things which other parents take for granted we get immense pleasure from. We also know that our family and friends are really proud of us, and that’s a nice feeling too.

 Our advice would be to keep in contact with support services and work really closely with your social worker. Don’t be afraid, or too proud to ask for help. 

Adopting a child with special needs can be a daunting prospect, but being prepared, both mentally and practically means that you really can enjoy being a parent. We certainly wouldn’t change a thing and in fact, we have found it so rewarding, we are now exploring the possibility of adopting for a third time.